Being torn on a game is not a fun thing to be as a reviewer. When faced with a title as categorically lame as Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, which manages to actually use and abuse every cliche known to humankind, the reviewer (yours truly) is faced with the question: Do I tear it asunder for wasting my time, or do I take the high road and point out the good along with the bad and the ugly?


 


Since I rarely take the high road, I decided on a compromise. While I’ll admit to Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon being far from the worst game I’ve played lately (die Wachowski Brothers!), I did not enjoy it very much. An adventure game usually requires some sort of “adventure” to fulfill its namesake, or so one would think. Globe-trotting to save the world from nefarious villains is all well and good, but when the main characters are a patent lawyer from Idaho who conforms to every stereotype of the average American one can think of and a resolutely plucky French journalist, there are issues of believability right from the start. This is the third game in the Broken Sword series, and having not played the first two I got the distinct impression I was playing catch up for most of the game. Several times the main character, George, will cross paths with someone from a previous entry, at which point he’ll have a conversation option that starts out with, “Hey, I know you from…” and continue from there.


 

George and Nico start off on separate stories, only to later they find out they’re working on the same case, only from opposite ends. Once united, they work together to save the world from an off-shoot of the Knights of the Templar, a small group who have discovered a way to harness some of Mother Nature’s more potent energies, thereby putting the fate of the world at risk. To be a bit cynical, the writers have unearthed the bodies of about a dozen cliches, then beat them into ash. Things get more convoluted as the story progresses. I half expected the villain to scream at the hero, “No, I am your father!” At one point there’s actually a group recap for the player as all the good guys pool their knowledge and the characters literally spell out everything that’s happened up to that point. This would be fine if the game were the length of one of the Final Fantasy games, but each sequence shouldn’t take more than 15 to 20 minutes to get through, so I was looking at most the past two hours.

The graphics are actually very solid for Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon and all the models look fairly realistic. The backgrounds are very detailed and well rendered. However, I didn’t care for was how each one of the characters moved. I got the impression many, many times throughout Broken Sword that all the money went into creating the world around the models, and at the end of the cycle someone realized main and secondary characters were necessary. That’s definitely how I felt about the script, but more on that later. While moving in-game, all the characters act jerky and twitch like a science experiment gone awry, and the movements are all very blocky and stiff.


 


Since most of the game involves standing around talking with other characters or examining items, it would have been nice if the surrounding environments weren’t so bereft of life. For example, while the characters are in Paris, the streets are empty during the day, and even more so at night, save for the few people you can talk with. The cut scenes are mostly done in-game, thus the immersion factor remains high, sleep-inducing though it may be. At least you can better accept what happens to the characters when cut-scenes don’t use full-motion video with C-list actors and bottom-feeder dialogue. I never had a problem believing my characters and their reactions to any number of situations, even if the main character’s IQ equivalent was a termite.


 

What I did have a problem with was how completely non-interactive the environment felt. Typical of the adventure genre, you walk around a static environment and click on specific things and then click on yet more things and then talk to a few people. I guess this aggravates me so much due to the inherent sameness of a genre whose best titles mined this exact formula by making the world a character in and of itself. Look at LucasArts’ finest hours like Day of the Tentacle, the Monkey Island saga, or Grim Fandango, or even The Longest Journey or Syberia. These are titles that used their graphics to enhance the story, and not expressly to look good.

The vocal work in Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is pretty good overall. The actors invest their characters with enough personality that they overcome the rather weak script. George is about the only American character in the game, and the others have accents ranging from French, to Australian, to Mystery-Euro Accent #4, and all the actors dive right in. I enjoyed the by-play between George and Nico, as well as interactions between George and just about everyone else he encountered. Some voice actors overplay their roles (for example, the computer nerd from the beginning goes so far over the top he practically pole vaults it), but for the most part everyone plays their characters in a realistic manner.


 


There are plenty of gun shots, cars screeching, and strange things happening so it’s a good thing the sound design team did an excellent job. Several cars peel out, because apparently all the bad guys have to try and run down the good guys in expensive, yet fashionable, European cars. Overall, the sound effects work well in tandem with the vocal work and this is easily the strong point of Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. The effects do their job, and some of the actors need to learn a little thing called restraint. It might help them in the future.

The controls are stupid simple, which honestly makes them good. However, there are a few moments where the “good” changes to “sucks.” This is not a fast-paced actioner like Halo where you have to press one button to reload and another to drop to your knees and another to zoom in with a sniper rifle all while under fire from dozens of enemies. In Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon, all of the action controls are based on the X, Y, A, B buttons on the controller. Throughout the game, you’ll see these buttons in the bottom right-hand side of the screen, and when you’re near something that requires an action, then a specific button will highlight. You then hit that button and your character performs a specific action. For example, when near a ledge you can jump across, the A button will highlight. Hitting the A button will jump your character across the ledge. The black button pulls up your inventory, which you can scroll through with the directional pad. Combining items is a matter of selecting one item, scrolling to another item, then hitting the correct button. Viola! The primary item is either combined with another, or is used to break, mend, or enhance an item.


 

The controls get problematic when you’re forced to make a split second decision. My characters were shot, caught, or run over countless times because the very second an action event happens, you have maybe a second and a half to hit a specific highlighted button. This problem is aggravated when the camera constricts you to one view, and the controls suddenly invert on you. The camera behaves itself for the most part, but there are a few instances where I pounded my head against the table in frustration. For example, at one point you have to run from a gun-toting blonde chick. You’re running towards the camera which, instinctively, led me to believe if I pulled the left thumbstick towards me then my character would run towards the camera. Imagine my surprise when he turned around and ran right back towards the blonde chick, who promptly shot me. After getting dropped a few times, I pushed the thumbstick forward and then was able to run forwards. I don’t consider myself a stupid or inexperienced gamer, but this sort of thing was so simple and so counter-intuitive I just couldn’t get it for a while

From the well-done opening cinematic, I was hooked on a daring tale of swashbuckling and intrigue in the 1930s. About 15 seconds into it, you find out your character is not a renegade professor of archeology, but is a patent lawyer from the Midwest. Okay, I thought, I can go with this. Mundane day job, moonlights as an adventurer through African jungles, all the makings of the heroic cliche are in tact. The whole game is a throwback to the days of Indiana Jones, which is why I’m puzzled by the modern day setting, and even more puzzled by the fact that there was nary a buckled swash to be found.


 

Run here, select a conversation topic and kick back for five minutes while the characters continue to talk to each other without your interference, repeat for the next 12 conversation items, then run to the next person and repeat, then click on every item you see in an apartment, then run back to those same people and rinse then repeat. If the characters had actually been talking about something even remotely interesting, I might have paid more attention to it. The plot, however, is so pedestrian, and the off-subject conversations so uninteresting, that it’s easier (and far more enjoyable) to just click on a topic, grab a soda from the fridge, and move on to a puzzle. You’ll get more out of the beverage.

This adventure was dead on arrival, and really not worth picking up a second time, much less a third or a fourth. For the adventure lovers out there who insist on grabbing anything in this genre for fear of it dying, then rent this and beat it on a weekend when the wife or significant other is out of town. Short of that, this one is a skipper.

Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon is one of those games where the reviewer just bangs his or her head on their desk because it’s such an average title, since you can’t go wrong recommending it or advising people to avoid it. If you really have to play every adventure game on the market, then you might enjoy this one. If you prefer your adventure games to come with better characters, better story, and more emotions tied into it, then avoid Broken Sword. As it is with every one of these games, the choice remains yours.

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